Social media 101: the terminology and breakdown of what it all means

Social media is a powerful tool that has not only changed digital marketing, but also the personal lives of all of us!

Social media is any digital tool or app that allows users to create and share content to the public such as links, photos, videos, etc. However, each social media platform is different and caters to a different type of user. So, depending on your strategy and goals, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how users interact on each platform. 

In this blog post we want to explain how social media works, break down the differences of each of the platforms and explain the terminology and difference between things like a post, sponsored post and paid ad.

How social media works

When we talk about social media, the most popular platforms today include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok. And although they differ by functionality, most work the same. They begin with users creating profiles to use and share content. Depending on the type of platform, they may allow users to then “follow” other users, add them as a “friend” or “subscribe” to another user’s page.

Social media uses “feeds” that allow users to scroll through content that they follow. And social media companies use algorithms, based on a user’s profile information, to determine what content appears and the order it appears in on their feed. Feeds also include paid ads, or the ability for companies to pay to promote their content.

The most popular social media platforms

The most popular social media platforms for several years now have been Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, followed by YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Facebook is the leader in social media advertising revenue and has the most monthly active users. Instagram (who is owned by Facebook) has a slightly younger audience than Facebook and primarily focuses on image and video sharing. It brought in more than 6 billion in mobile advertising in 2018 and this continues to grow. Here’s a further breakdown of each platform and how you should use each one…


  • Great for sharing opinions, articles, product information, etc.
  • You can write longer posts because users are more likely to read and digest content on this platform


  • Visual platform created for sharing photos and videos
  • Easy to use filters and photo edits
  • Users share their experience through photography and video


  • Short, concise, matter-of-fact text only posts between 120-130 characters
  • Content can be compared to creating crafty headlines for a blog
  • Users appreciate witty tweets and hashtags


  • Business oriented 
  • A more sophisticated audience
  • A place for users to showcase their job experience, professional thoughts and opinions and more


  • Video sharing platform to show footage of your brand, services and products


  • A visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home inspiration, photography and more.
  • Your home feed is where you’ll find “pins” to create “boards,” and follow other friends, people, businesses and boards.

This article provides an excelled infographic explaining more about how to choose the right social media platform for your business.

Posts, sponsored posts, paid ads and reels

For the most part, most social media platforms work the same. As a user (personal or business) you can create posts for your followers to share your content. This is an impactful, free way to reach your audience. However, platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer paid posts as a way for you to dial into specific target markets. 

Over the years, businesses have had to do more than create interesting posts for followers to see them and today, in order for most businesses to get their posts in front of a larger audience, they have to invest in paid posts. (Our social media cheat sheet gives tips and tricks to help you with this though!)

Here are a few examples of what we are talking about…

Boosted post: this is one that is pushed into more news feeds of people who like your page and their friends or people you target based on demographics, interests, age, gender, etc. You can boost existing posts on your timeline and when you have certain posts getting more engagement than others, Facebook will often recommend doing this for better results. In LinkedIn it’s called a Sponsored Update and on Twitter a Promoted Tweet. However, if you’re trying to drive traffic to your website or have a specific call to action, a paid ad will usually be a better option with better results.

Paid ads: Facebook and LinkedIn give you the option to create ads specifically for a promo or event, or to drive traffic to a landing page/web page. You can pay per click or choose a certain budget per day to spend. These separate ads appear on the right side of the news feed and allow you to target your audience to make the most of your advertising budget. An advantage of these over boosted posts is that you can test different ads at once to see what’s working best.

Reels: This is a free feature specific to Instagram and created in response to the increased popularity of TikTok. They are similar to Instagram Stories and are short-form videos in full 9:16 portrait mode. They can be 3-15 seconds in length and uploaded from your camera roll or mobile device. They’re mobile-only and can be filmed as one full take or a series of videos together. Learn everything you need to know about IG reels here.

When it comes to social media, there are literally hundreds of apps on the App Store or Google Play to choose from. And as the pool of platform grows, marketing trends may shift and change so finding the best social media platform for your business can be a challenge.

For more help identifying the best platforms for your business and goals, contact us today!

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